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Celebrating the Sun

When the time is right, discover what makes Florida the perfect getaway.

South Beach, Miami. Photograph courtesy of JC Ruiz/iStock.

With its glorious warm weather and great beaches, it’s easy to see how the Sunshine State — a.k.a. Florida — earned its official nickname. And though it is, indeed, the perfect spot to savour the sun, Florida also happens to be a hotbed of culture, style, and both natural and urban adventures. When the time is right, and it’s safe to do so, here are some must-do things in top Florida destinations.

Miami

World-class art and nightlife, just about every type of cuisine you can imagine, and great beaches, too? If you’re looking for all the urban amenities and some fun in the sun to boot, then Miami’s your city.

Start in South Beach. The area’s long beachfront and trendy restaurants make it the place to see and be seen, but the neighbourhood also features a magnificent collection of restored art deco buildings — more than 900 in all (the Miami Design Preservation League offers daily guided walking tours or self-guided audio tours). For contemporary street art, head to nearby Wynwood, a former warehouse district that has transformed into a larger-than-life outdoor gallery full of murals from world-renowned artists.

The city’s food scene is as hot as its art — from Cuban mom-and-pop sandwich shops to chic eateries helmed by superstar chefs, there’s no shortage of places to enjoy some Miami spice.

Fort Lauderdale

Las Olas Beach, Fort Lauderdale. Photograph courtesy of majaiva /iStock.

Just north of Miami, Fort Lauderdale ranks high on culture and history but with a more low-key, laid-back vibe than its glitzy neighbour. And though it offers nearly 40 kilometres of gorgeous shoreline, step away from the sea to discover Fort Lauderdale’s artsy charms. First stop: Las Olas Boulevard, a historic street lined with galleries and boutiques full of local art, fashion and other creations. Or, for a more cutting-edge scene, visit FATVillage, an emerging arts and culture district in downtown with a trail of public art installations that stretches for 3 km.

If timeless grandeur is what you’re after, Fort Lauderdale’s historic mansions are a must-do. Among the standouts is Bonnet House Museum and Gardens, the 1920s-era oceanfront estate of artist Frederic Clay Bartlett and his wife, Evelyn Fortune Lilly. Open to the public, it features 35 acres of landscaped gardens and the owners’ private art collection.

Fort Myers

Roseate spoonbills at the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Photograph courtesy of Boogich/iStock.

As a gateway to tranquil Sanibel, Captiva and Marco Islands, the city of Fort Myers, situated along Florida’s southwest coast, puts some of the state’s most pristine and beautiful attractions within easy reach. Here you’ll find spectacular beaches, hidden mangroves and countless ways to get up close to all kinds of exotic wildlife.

Florida’s massive manatees — water-based mammals that weigh about 450 kilograms and graze on seagrass and other marine plants — are among the fauna you’ll want to try to spot. While the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act cautions against approaching or touching these gentle giants, they’re a sight to behold, and you can see them for yourself by land or kayak at Fort Myers’ aptly named Manatee Park.

If birds are more your thing, head to J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on nearby Sanibel Island. One of the largest mangrove ecosystems in the U.S., the park is home to more than 245 species of birds, including its own “Big 5”: American white pelicans, mangrove cuckoos, reddish egrets, roseate spoonbills and yellow-crowned night herons.

Orlando

Universal Studios, Orlando. Photograph courtesy of BrettCharlton/iStock.

You’ll probably run out of time before you run out of things to do in Orlando. With dozens of large-scale attractions, waterparks and theme parks, this central-Florida city offers more than its share of entertainment.

Perhaps the best known, Walt Disney World actually consists of four theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios. And while you could easily dedicate days to Disney alone, you’ll want to pace yourself, because there’s plenty more to do. Universal Studios Florida has two theme parks of its own — Harry Potter fans will want to spend time at Universal’s Island of Adventure, home to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. And kids of all ages will love the 150-acre Legoland (with its own separate waterpark), and numerous others.

Tampa

The Tampa skyline. Photograph courtesy of Sean Pavone/iStock.

Tampa’s best beaches may be outside of its centre, but there’s so much going on you might have a hard time trading city for sand. With 15 stops through downtown, the hop-on, hop-off Pirate Water Taxi is a fun and scenic way to get to sites like the Tampa Museum of Art and Sparkman Wharf — an outdoor shopping and dining complex that features live music or outdoor movies most nights, as well as a Florida-centric biergarten with 24 taps and, of course, stellar waterfront views.

And, if you’re interested in everything that makes Florida special, make sure to visit the Tampa Bay History Center. A Smithsonian affiliate, this sprawling complex covers three floors — and 12,000 years of Floridian history.

visitflorida.com

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